The season of Lent is a time for us to reflect on Jesus and his last days, heading towards his death and resurrection. It can also be a season of Lament. We are not usually good at Lament. It’s not easy or pretty to groan and cry out to God. It’s much easier sometimes to put on a good face and sing the songs that are uplifting and cheerful. It’s easier when someone says ‘how are you doing’? to answer: ‘oh fine. I’m doing just fine.’ But if we stop and take notice, there are things to lament all around us.
I found a great site that had a space where people posted pictures and thoughts and prayers over the past year: https://churchmissionsociety.org/lamentspace/
Part of the practice of listening to these cries, is not to listen because I experience each of these things, but it’s to participate in and pay attention to what other believers are experiencing. That’s part of the language of the psalms. You may read the psalms and not always feel the pain and desperation that the writer was experiencing, but it opens up your heart to begin to feel with those who are in dire need. When we join in lament, we join in raising our voices in unison to God but it’s different than a complaint. N.T. Wright so aptly puts it this way: “a complaint is an accusation against God that maligns His character, but a lament is an appeal to God based on confidence in His character.”
In Lament, we, as a community of faith, turn to God for our hope and our comfort when we are frustrated at a broken world, and things that are not yet set right or in line with God’s kingdom purposes.
In our passage in Exodus last week, Moses ran away. He ran from Pharaoh, he ran from his sin, he was running from his people, and he was running from God. It’s funny what happens when we want to avoid something. We avert our eyes, refuse to pick up phone calls, hide in the other room when someone is at the door, put off answering the e-mail; we all have ways of hiding. But there are other times when want to be noticed. It may be because of something really great that happened, but often, it’s because we’re going through something really difficult. It’s when we’ve reached the end of our emotional capabilities and we don’t have any strength or power left, that we cry out “Where are you, God?”
So far, in our look at Exodus 1 and 2, there has been no mention of God. He’s been absent. Now, he’s not really absent. He’s been there the whole time. We just haven’t had any direct reference to him. As we’ve read the stories in Exodus so far, you might have wondered, “Where is God?” But God has not forgotten. These people are HIS people, and he appears at last in the text:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God. 24 So God heard their moaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them. Exodus 2:23-25 NASB
The sons of Israel did four things: They were groaning; they cried out; they cried because of their bondage; and they were moaning. These are the collective groans of an oppressed people.
The text says that God also did four things: God heard; He remembered; He saw them; and He took notice, or literally, he KNEW them.
God heard the sounds of his people. God remembered; which doesn’t mean that God forgot about these people. It just means that God is going to do something about their situation directly. God saw the people that he had made a covenant with. God knew. This verb is connected to covenant language. He knew the extent of the bondage, he knew what he was going to do, and through whom he was going to do it. This is not only a pivotal point in the story of the people of Israel; this text is a reminder to us of who God is for US, too. Down through the decades and even centuries, the cries of oppressed people have risen up to God, crying out for deliverance and freedom.
In our darkest seasons, and our times of doubt and discouragement, we can hang on to these statements:
The psalmist writes: The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help in Psalm 34:15.
This Lent, we are journeying into the desert. The desert is not a fun place. There are mysteries and beauty in it, but the images we most think of are desolation, dryness, and isolation. And yet, there is no place that is hidden from God. In the story of Hagar, she runs into the desert after Sarah treats her harshly and dismisses her. The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water, and asked her, “where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar pours out her heart to him, and after God gives her insight into the future, she gives him a name: El Roi—the God who sees me.
There are times we may wonder if God sees. Does God see the suffering of children? Does he see when people are falsely accused and put in prison? Does God see the weak who are left to die? When people cheat? Does he see when evil runs wild and free? Does he watch the wars that unfold all around us? We may not always recognize it, but God is at work. He is not blind.
Injustice seems overwhelming in our world, but we remember that Jesus took upon himself injustice. He endured false accusations, hostile treatment, humiliation, beatings, torture, ridicule …and physical execution. Through suffering he endured injustice so that he could make things right on our behalf. The people of Israel suffered injustice, too. They were enslaved. But God was working in the life of Moses to rescue his people in good time. When it seemed like God was doing nothing, he was up to something. The scene is being set for the calling of Moses.
The Exodus from Egypt actually begins when the children of Israel groaned and cried out to God. God heard and answered. In our times of discouragement, we can cry out, too. Maybe Lament is our first step in the journey to freedom, too. We can be assured that God hears!
“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; in Psalm 12:5
For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the Lord looked upon the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free those who were doomed to death… Psalm 120:19-20
In Lent, we’re reminded that sin and suffering and death do not have the last word. God was at work while Jesus was in the tomb, and we have the assurance that God is always working out his purposes in this world, among us as his people, and in our hearts and minds. When we don’t know how to pray, we can groan, and when we don’t have the words, the Spirit of God will fill in the gaps for us. The apostle Paul writes: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
–When we long for an end to the Coronavirus
–When we groan for the redemption of our bodies—with all their scars, wrinkles, sags and shame.
–When we ache for spring, and signs of new life
–When we can hear the groan of the immigrant
–When we feel the deep desire for all lives to matter fully
–When we hear the groans of those who lack good health, good food, or who lack acceptance and belonging.
–When we groan because of the loss of someone we love
–When we groan because of violence, fraud, political division, and social separation
When we groan, we don’t need to lose hope. Our cries and our groans are simply another form of prayer. It’s a good time to spend some time in Lament.
Whether you feel comfortable writing out some kind of prayer, or practicing the posture of Lament by sitting in a heap and groaning, it’s okay. God hears. The Spirit groans with you. God knows. And he will remember us. I hope that this season of Lent can be a time where we become aware of and can vocalize our grief, our pain, our longings and our lament, and yet a time where we can yet look ahead to Christ and lament with hope.
In your mercy, Lord, hear our prayer.
Going Deeper Questions
— Read Exodus 2:23-25. How would you describe the tone of this passage?
–Why does the text mention that the king of Egypt died? Think back to why Moses is not currently in Egypt (2:15). How might this detail affect the storyline?
—Read Genesis 17:1-6. Why do you think God’s covenant is mentioned at this point in the Exodus narrative?
–Is it ever hard to feel or believe that God is hearing you and responding?
–How many times have you asked, “How long?” “Have you forgotten us?” Or, “Why does God allow tyrants to rule unjustly over his people?” “How will you deliver us?”
These are honest questions. Lament is different than complaint, in that “a complaint is an accusation against God that maligns His character, but a lament is an appeal to God based on confidence in His character.” N.T. Wright
–How does the description of God in 2:24-25 place Him in stark contrast to the gods of wood and stone worshiped by the Egyptians?
–In the midst of their suffering, how aware do you think the Israelites were that God heard, remembered, saw and knew? Why is it good for us to meditate on these truths in both good times and bad?
–Imagine a time you experienced injustice. What was that like for you?
–Now, imagine someone else’s unjust situation. Can you imagine their thoughts and feelings as acutely as you did yours? What needs to change in you, that you would be able to see other’s injustices as grievous as your own? Will you allow God to transform your heart to see, face, and fight for the justice of others?
–When you think of justice fighters, who comes to mind? Is it someone with power, even a fictional character or superhero? The images we have are greatly limited. But there are also many quiet and unsung heroes in our world. What injustices to you see in the lives of those around you? At school or work? In the city or in the world?
–Justice is a practice to cultivate. What are the practices we can engage in that are aligned with God’s heart of justice—making wrongs right, defending the weak, standing up for the powerless. How can you be a force for justice? How can we as a church?
(not in the sense where we side with a political movement, or point our fingers at those who think differently than we do, but in practical, everyday ways?) Justice work does not have to be loud, but it must be true. Ask God to give us all the courage to engage with the reality of injustice in our present day.
–The original readers of Exodus were the generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering. How would the words of 2:24-25 have been a comfort to them? How can they comfort us?
–The Lord looks down from heaven, and he remembers. He promises to deliver with judgments on the wicked and redeem his people into a plush dwelling. He rescues. He redeems. He executes judgments and he provides an escape. He achieves victory for his people when all hope seems lost.
Practical acts of justice and mercy may include:
–do the hard work of reconciliation with a neighbor or family member
–personally provide care for your parents
–speak out if you see someone being bullied
–give direct and tangible help to someone who has suffered wage loss, disability, or illness.
–offer grace to someone who owes you money
be aware of ‘the other’ in your world.
Hold a door, shovel a sidewalk, offer your place in line to someone else,
provide or host a meal for those who may feel a sense of ‘homelessness” (physically, relationally, spiritually)
–pay a fair price and then some for a good product; don’t always be looking for the best deal
–give consideration, kindness and respect to those who work in the jobs that may be considered inferior by others
–sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International; or consider sponsoring a local family with groceries or paying bills for a month who have experienced tough times
–if you have a voice in management, a board, or a business, speak up for those who may be overlooked or forgotten in the decision-making processes.
 Genesis 16:13
 James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 37.
 Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus, New York: Schocken Books, 1996, 37.